I’ve had my eye on seeing The Rink at Southwark Playhouse since it was announced, and with the great Caroline O’Connor taking a starring role it would be rude not to. In its first revival in 30 years, this Kander & Ebb classic has taken the Off-West End scene by storm this month.
Opening in 1984 on Broadway starring Liza Minelli and Chita Rivera, The Rink hasn’t always had the most positive reviews. Despite this, Rivera won a Tony Award for her performance in the show and the Southwark Playhouse production is nominated for 10 Offies!
The Rink tells the tale of a mother and daughter who don’t quite see eye to eye. Estranged for 7 years, Anna (Caroline O’Connor, understudy for Angel in the original West End production) and Angel (Gemma Sutton) must learn to compromise for each other again, putting their pasts on the table in order to move forward. Anna is the strong-willed owner of a roller rink which she inherited from her ex-father-in-law and has faced endless problems in her life. She’s ready to retire with her partner, and sells the rink for demolition. But Angel has other ideas: her grandfather left half of the rink to her and she doesn’t want to let it go.
But the truth of the matter is that Angel doesn’t want to lose the setting of so many of her childhood memories. The place that her father showed her magic, the location of her high-school prom, and the place that she remembers her family being a cohesive unit. When she starts sifting through these memories, it becomes clear to Anna that this place is much more than a building, it’s a home. It was a little predictable, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.
Caroline O’Connor is theatre royalty, and she had no reason to star in a show in a theatre seating just 300 when she recently featured in Anastasia on Broadway. She’s been in the business for years, making appearances in a number of shows on both sides of the Atlantic and in her native Australia, in productions such as A Chorus Line, Chicago and Me & My Girl. But she clearly loves her job, and is in the game for the joy of theatre. From the moment she stepped onto the stage, the audience were captivated. It was a real theatre masterclass from the original triple threat.
That’s not to say the Gemma Sutton didn’t live up to the benchmark set by O’Connor. Her performance of Coloured Lights was beautifully chilling, with her layers being slowly peeled away as the musical progresses. Sutton and O’Connor play a truly enchanting mother-daughter duo, brilliantly directed by Adam Lenson. Between the witty one-liners that make you laugh out loud, the performance and the script leads to tear-jerking moments. It’s a difficult balance to find in a production, but it was crafted wonderfully.
Whilst it is a female lead cast, the ensemble brings together six men playing a variety of roles. Stewart Clarke’s Dino, Anna’s ex-husband and Angel’s father, brings both explosive scenes of passion and tender moments of love. But the highlight for the ensemble, and of the production as a whole, was Fabian Aloise’s choreography which included an innovative tap dance on rollerskates to the title song, getting the longest and loudest applause of the show. It was almost a little ambitious for the size of the space at Southwark Playhouse, but it just about worked. This is a number that will stick with me for many years to come, and I wish I could watch it again and again.
Whilst the space was a little small, the company worked with what they had. The set was simple, but it didn’t need to be anything extravagant. The lighting design was superb, truly setting the mood of the upcoming scenes. The Rink is uplifting, heart wrenching and honestly made me want to give my mum a big hug. Featuring a theatre masterclass from Caroline O’Connor in an intimate setting, this production is going to be carried around with me for a long time. A truly unforgettable show!
The Rink is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June.